Mendia and Elias with high spirits despite the late hour. [Photo] Unai Mendia
On Feburary 12, a new line was established on the third wall of France’s Cirque de Gavarnie. The new route, Momento Mori, was climbed by Martin Elias, Unai Mendia and Albert Salvado over the course of two weekends.
The first attempt began on February 5 when the trio spent Saturday scaling the first two walls, reaching their bivouac at about 5 p.m. There they enjoyed a hot tea while discussing plans for Sunday’s assault. Climbing began late the next morning. The first pitch was an undemanding 60m traverse of WI4+. The second
pitch, however, didn’t offer such immediate clarity. To the right appeared higher quality rock and “an incredible traverse on hanging ice,” according to Mendia. The line directly above looked more direct, but the beginning seemed chossy. But Martin, displaying a motivation that would reappear on the following weekend, charged it. He climbed the first 10m of poor rock free, placing four bolts. Once the rock improved, Mendia took over, placing one more bolt before the belay, finishing the pitch of 6c/7a climbing. From here the team descended, ready to come back the next weekend and finish the climb. Again, they faced the decision of whether to go straight up or right.
Elias moving quickly over ice. [Photo] Albert Savado
During the next week, they decided on going right. Upon returning on February 11, they would change their minds. On the morning of the 11th, the group began climbing the first wall, breezing through it and the second pitch. By the time they were back at the start of the third pitch, it was getting late in the day, and their hopes of finishing were fading. So, again, they chose the direct option. The pitch began with a traverse right of about five to seven meters, before winding up, left and then through an overhang at 7b/7c.
The next sections delivered ice and darkness–two pitches of WI5+. “We did place bolts on the belays for the last two pitches because it was dark and we couldn’t see the best line, [or] where we would be getting thick enough ice to place screws,” explained Mendia. “Martin did an incredible job up there.” By the time they came to the last pitch, it was 1 a.m. and the trio had been climbing for 17.5 hours. Although the line had become much easier, exhaustion had set in. For Salvado and Mendia, the climb was over. “We had done [the neighboring route] Alois before, and it is just 15m to the right. So we decided to leave it there.” Martin Elias alone climbed the last pitch.
The idea for the name Momento Mori was conceived by Salvado quite some time ago. The phrase, a reminder of man’s mortality, means “remember thy death.”
[Photo] Albert Savado